Category Archives: Author Interviews

Advance Book Review of a Must-read Thriller — The Pocket Wife

PocketWifeJacketCover
My first post-Thanksgiving read this year was debut author Susan Crawford’s new psychological thriller, The Pocket Wife.
As one of the first bloggers to receive an advance reader’s edition, I’m honored to share some impressions of this hard-to-put-down thriller. Susan, a fellow Atlanta Writers Club member who I interviewed on The Writing Well after news broke of her two-book deal contract with HarperCollins, has weaved a compelling tale that explores the darker side of marriage, fidelity, jealousy and mental illness.

The story opens with Dana Catrell, a wife and mother living in suburban New Jersey, who wakes up hung over with a fuzzy memory of the previous day’s events, only to learn that she was the last person to see her neighbor alive. Fending off medication for her bipolar condition to keep her mind sharp, Dana tries to piece together the events leading to her neighbor’s death, all the time wondering if there is a murderer lurking inside her.

Susan’s main point-of-view character is a woman who has been shaped by her own perceptions of herself and the world around her, tainted by a lifelong struggle with mental illness. Readers are immediately drawn into Dana’s complicated inner life, as someone with secrets and regrets — a wife who feels invisible next to her flamboyant lawyer husband, a lost mother who longs for the presence of their only child, now in college.

Readers begin to feel her hysteria…is she being stalked or is she crazy? Could she –in a drunken fit of rage – have clubbed her neighbor to death?

I followed the unfolding drama – and like any avid reader of a good book – had a hard time putting the story down the further into the book I went. The other point-of-view character is a veteran detective going through his own marital crisis as he tries to uncover the mystery. An ambitious up-and-coming assistant district attorney pressures him to close the case fast, as he fights his growing attraction for the crime’s prime suspect, whose bizarre behavior paints her as the likely culprit.

I recommend everyone pre-order this novel, which is a great who-done-it with an unorthodox lead character who is as flawed and as complicated as they come. The characters are vivid and raw; the writing and pacing strong. There is very little that I didn’t like about this debut novel, though I have to admit I figured out who did it before the climactic ending (an annoying tendency I have when watching movies, too).
The Pocket Wife will be generally released this March, and I believe it’s got a great shot at being optioned for the Big Screen. I can easily envision Julianne Moore in the lead.

Author Q&A

Author Susan Crawford

Author Susan Crawford

Before I conclude this post, I asked Susan to explain a little bit about her writing process and what surprised her most about her characters’ journey. I hope this additional commentary proves helpful to readers as they decide whether to make The Pocket Wife a must-read novel for 2015.

Q. How did you come up with the title?

Susan:  The way I came up with The Pocket Wife’s title is kind of funny. I called my workaholic husband, who was at work of course, about something fairly important. “I can’t talk right now,” he whispered in this annoying, urgent voice. “I’ll just – I’m gonna stick you in my pocket for a second,” and he did. All I could hear was the rustling sounds of his pocket insides so I hung up and tossed my cellphone back into my purse. “I’m nothing but a pocket wife,” I snarled, and then I thought. Hey. Wait. The Pocket Wife! And that became the title.


Q. How were you able to create such a believable main character struggling with bipolar disorder? Did you draw on your own life experience?


Susan:
To a large extent I did draw on my own life experiences when it came to understanding Dana and presenting her to readers. I think all of us have moments when we teeter, when we feel on the brink, when we feel hopeless. Dana just goes a little farther over the line. She becomes unable to function, which was, at least at one point, the definition of insanity. I have been close to people in my life that were bipolar, and that helped me to get inside Dana’s head to a degree. I have always found psychology fascinating – what makes people think and act as they do – that fine line between genius and insanity.


Q. Did the book’s characters – who seem so real – take on a life of their own in your imagination during the writing phase of this novel? What surprised you most about them?


Susan: 
Yes. The characters did take on a life of their own as I was writing the book. They always do. I could see them very clearly and see the world from their perspectives – what their living rooms looked like or their offices, what annoyed them or what made them tick. In fact, if I try to define my characters ahead of time it limits them in a way. It makes them stilted. It confines them to my idea of who they are or who they should be. What surprises me with characters is that they have a big part in how the story plays out, what direction it takes, because if they are real enough, they will do certain things and not others. They play off each other in particular unique ways because of their personalities or proclivities. When I was writing The Pocket Wife I was a little surprised to find that all the characters could justify their behavior. No matter how bizarre or wrong their actions appeared to be, they all had rational (or rationalized) reasons for doing what they did.


Q. What is your favorite excerpt or paragraph in this book? I found certain passages took my breath away in terms of their literary quality.


Susan:
Thank you for the wonderful compliment! I like this passage because I think it shows who Dana is, how she came to be where she is in a nightmare marriage, why she gave up on certain dreams. Also, this part happened in the past, so it doesn’t really give away any of the plot:


She didn’t marry the Poet because she couldn’t slow herself down. Lying beside him on the dingy mattress in that place with the broken wall, she couldn’t relax. Night after night, she lay awake, watching the rise and falling of his hairy chest, the shadows underneath his eyes, the neon light from a liquor store across the alley blinking at the sky. Like a signal, she’d told him, like a warning, and the Poet laughed. “Have a toke,” he said. “It’ll relax you. It will help you sleep,” and the poet stuffed his Chinese pipe with small soft lumps of hash. It didn’t make her sleep, though. Nothing did. Every week she slept less, walking through the downtown streets with the Poet, arm in arm, until late into the night, until his eyes were closing and he fell asleep exhausted on the mattress, leaving her to pace and write. Her classes flew by in a confusion of voices and raised hands – of papers written in the middle of the night, so brilliant, so esoteric. I think I’m channeling God, she told the Poet, her body nothing more than flesh on bones. He tells me what to say. But they didn’t understand – her professors, the other students. Only her dark poet understood, and finally not even he could catch the words that tumbled from her brain onto the page in tiny, oddly-slanted script that even she could barely read. The night he came home and found her on the roof, squatting at the edge in nothing but a slip – the night she said Jesus told her she could fly, the night she floated hundreds of hand-written pages into the winter sky over Avenue D, he’d driven her to Bellevue in a borrowed car.

________________________

To learn more about The Pocket Wife or Susan’s other writing projects, visit her author page at: http://www.susancrawfordnovelist.com/.

Guest Blog: Jameson Gregg Shares Excerpt from his Comic Novel

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In today’s final post focused on the craft of humor writing, The Writing Well is delighted to spotlight the work of Jameson Gregg. His just-released book, Luck Be a Chicken (Deeds Publishing), a comedic novel about south Georgia rednecks scrapin’ by in their wheel-estate, is earning rave reviews.  Cassandra King, New York Times’ bestselling author, writes:  “Anything can happen, and does, in this rollicking farce, set in a sleepy south Georgia town where the Sweat family resides in the Garden of Eden Trailer Park. Jesus returns to earth as a Mexican forklift driver at the Majestic Chicken Plant, a NASCAR-loving redneck named Butterbean takes on corporate corruption, and the scales of justice swing every-which-way. If reading Luck Be A Chicken doesn’t make you laugh out loud at least a dozen times, you owe me an RC Cola and a Moonpie.”

According to Amazon reviewer MaryLou Cheatham,  “Jameson Gregg mixes raw realism and compassion with brazen satire in Luck Be A Chicken. He paints the rough side of life with comic relief. Farce and embellishment live on the top drawer of his humor toolbox.  The sensory impact, the humor when it is least expected, and the nail-biting anxiety propel the rapid turning of pages to the end.”

The excerpt below captures the humor of this talented Southern storyteller.

“I got a man here to drive for you. His name is Hay-Seuss.”

The well-postured man of medium height was light skinned for a Latino. His black hair skimmed his shoulders, and a thick beard hedged his chin. His clothes were threadbare but clean.

The man smiled and nodded as Bean looked him up and down. “How you spell that?”

“’Fraid he don’t speak too much English,” Wilbur said. “He spells it J-e-s-u-s. Like in the Bible.”

“You mean Jesus is coming to work at Majestic Chicken?”

“He ain’t Jesus,” Wilbur said. “He’s Hay-suess. I wish he was Jesus.”

“How you make a ‘Hay’ out a ‘J’?”

“Beats me, Sweat, take it up with Mexico. Job center claims he can drive a lift. All you got to do is show him what to do.”

“Guess I’ll have to show him ’cause I damn sure can’t tell him, now can I? How long has he been drivin’?”

“I don’t know, Bean, ask him. You need to finish cleanin’ cause we’re probably going live after lunch. I got to go.” Wilbur whirled and shuffled away.

Bean sized up Jesús. Clear, intelligent eyes. Sincere and agree¬able attitude. Seemed anxious to work. Bean felt an odd compul¬sion to show this man respect.

“Buenos días. Mi nombre es Butterbean Sweat. Mucho gusto. ¿Es usted de Mèxico?”

“Sí, Señor Sweat. Soy de Veracruz.”

Bean remembered last week’s special at Amigo Gordo with great fondness—Chili Rellenos del Veracruz. This feller cain’t be all bad.

Bean walked him over to the second Nissan forklift and point¬ed. “You know how to drive this?”

Bean pretended to hold his hands on the wheel, turning left and right.

“Sí, Señor Sweat.”

Bean released a key from his belt ring and tossed it to the new man, pointed to an open area,

and twirled his wrist. “Drive around this area and do some stop-and-goes and turn. Compre¬hend-o?”

“Sí.”

In seamless movements, Jesús mounted and cranked her. She beeped when he threw her into reverse then she glided like an ice dancer, cutting flawless geometric, loop-de-loop patterns, backward and forward, curving in perfect concentric circles.

Bean’s jaw dropped. The smoothest thing I ever seen on a forklift. A tear welled up.

Jesús glided the lift beside Bean, stepped down, and nodded.

Bean tried to gather his composure. He started to speak, stopped himself, and stood in awkward silence. Finally he stepped close to Jesús and whispered. “Are you really Jesus? I mean

Christ, like in the Bible, who come back like You said You would?”

Jesús smiled and shrugged. “No comprendo.”

“Come on, you can tell me. I won’t tell nobody. I always knowed You was real. Really, I swear I did. I knowed You’d sneak back when we wasn’t watchin’, but I didn’t think You’d be drivin’ no forklift in a chicken plant.”

Jesús shook his head. “No comprendo, Señor Sweat.”

Bean studied genuine confusion in the man’s face. The real Jesus would know English, I’m purty sure. He walked Jesús through the work routine in Spanglish then heard Wilbur’s voice and turned.

___________________

About Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg has worked as a lawyer for two decades, most recently practicing business, corporate, banking and real estate in Georgia’s second-oldest law firm before leaving the legal field to devote himself to writing full time.

His 2014 debut novel, Luck Be a Chicken, won first place in the annual Northeast Georgia Writers’ Club competition.  Jameson is a member of the Atlanta Writers’ Club, the Northeast Georgia Writers’ Club and the Stonepile Writers’ Group.

A native of Mississippi who now resides in the North Georgia Mountains, Jameson has a BBA from the University of Mississippi and a JD from the Mississippi College School of Law.

Check out his recent author interview on Gainesville, Ga., radio.

A Look Inside the Craft of Humor and Satire Writing

Laughter

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Georgia writers Jameson Gregg and Roy Richardson share three things in common: they love language, they love Mark Twain and they love to make people laugh.

I recently sat down with these two talented wordsmiths over lunch to talk about how they go about the craft of humor writing. And in the next week, I will be featuring excerpts of their writing here on The Writing Well.

Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg

Jameson, a North Georgia attorney of twenty years, left the law profession to write full time a few years ago. He recently celebrated the launch of his debut comic novel, Luck Be a Chicken, a tale of a redneck southern family trapped in generational poverty and facing a gut-wrenching crisis of how to raise money for their baby daughter’s operation.

Roy Richardson

Roy Richardson

Roy, a lifelong Georgian, has spent three decades as a writer/artist for Marvel/DC/Darkhorse Comics. He collaborated with his wife, June Brigman, inking, lettering and coloring the Brenda Starr comic strip for 15 years. Roy continues to juggle his freelance art assignments with his writing, a constant challenge.

Currently, he is compiling a series of short stories, titled, Hillbillies Prefer Blondes, which in addition to seeking a publishing home, he intends to record as an audio book. His writing is inspired by his own life —coming-of-age in Georgia in the 70s. I’ve gotten to know Roy through our writers’ group, and I can tell you that his readings are always a comedic highlight of our group’s gathering.

Check out our conversation below:

Q. How would you describe your unique writing voice? What inspired it?

Roy: I read a column by Stephen King recently where he stated his belief that voice is the single most important factor in keeping a reader engaged. I agree, and I always try to use voice in a way that will make the reader feel that I am telling a story just to them. As for describing my voice, it’s more of an instinctual thing rather than an intellectual process. I’m afraid if I analyze it too much, I won’t be able to do it anymore…

Jameson: I would define my voice as the ability to a) recognize the potential for humor in a situation, b) add to, expand, and embellish with imagination, c) write it with clarity. What inspired it? I think the desire to deliver humor, writing or otherwise, is either in one’s DNA or it’s not. Every child I’ve known loves humor. I think as we grow, that interest in humor becomes less important as other serious and complicated issues cloud our lives. Every adult I know also likes humor and likes to laugh, but few have the inclination to pursue it as a living. That’s where the DNA comes in. Personally, my humor DNA comes from my (now deceased) mother and grandmother. They would both go to great lengths for a practical joke.
Q. What things do you draw upon to bring humor to your writing?

Roy: I find that stating the obvious in the most obtuse and pseudointellectual manner possible is usually funny. And if that doesn’t work, then I try the exact opposite approach, presenting the obscure as though it should be completely obvious to all. Also, having my characters stress out and bluntly spill some of the really stupid things most people secretly believe is usually good for a laugh.

Jameson: It’s important to be alert and on the lookout for it because it’s all around us and usually unintentional. Sometimes it’s putting two ideas together. For instance, when Dahlonega was hosting the latest Big Foot Conference, I saw a huge dude in Walmart and it resulted in the attached Sasquatch article. Another time, I was at the local farmers market and noticed a couple of old-timers hanging out in the shade. I wondered what they talk about, so instead of continuing to wonder, I sat down and made up what I thought they may be talking about. It appeared in a column I periodically write for the Dahlonega (Ga) Nugget.

Q. What writers and works inspire you?

LuckBeaChickenJameson: Picaresque novels. Ever heard the term? I hadn’t until after I wrote one. When fellow Georgia author George Weinstein wrote a blurb for my novel, Luck Be A Chicken, he called it a picaresque novel, the first I ever heard the term or the genre. How about that – write a book in a sub-genre without even realizing the existence of the genre! Examples of this type of writing include Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, who is kind of my hero. Also, anything by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson or Richard Brautigan. As for living authors, I read Tim Dorsey and Bob Morris. Carl Hiaasen is the king now.

I like Mark Twain’s tall tales. His work inspired me to write American History 101, attached, published this year in Stonepile Writers Anthology III, by the University Press of North Georgia.

Roy: Though I’m writing fiction rather than memoir, Mary Karr and Rick Bragg, as great Southern writers, have both informed my stuff. I also think that Michael Chabon writes some beautiful sentences. There’s some Twain, Poe and Harlan Ellison in the mix as well. What I get from Twain is to write about something absurd in an extremely serious and intellectual sort of way – the way he uses language, sentences and phrases like a puffed-up college professor.

Q. What would be your top piece of advice to other writers looking to inject humor into their writing?

Jameson: I think the most effective way is to write situational humor – where you get your characters into a situation that is funny – like we all do sometimes.

Roy: What I do is use language – taking an absurd situation but talking about it in a very serious analytical way, which makes it even more funny. I have a lot of dialogue and try to simulate how people talk – using accents without laying it on too thick – “daaang, little boy.” I’m working with a friend to record some of my stuff. I’m a little bit of a ham with southern accents.

Jameson: I try to capture the vernacular of my southern redneck characters in my novel. But you have to be careful – if you go too far it can make it unreadable. You have to hit a balance. One of my favorite nuances of the southern vernacular is the double negative: “I ain’t done nothing.”

Roy: It’s very hard to interject humor into something – I never liked the concept of comedy relief, which was something that John Ford would do in his films when all of a sudden the characters would stop and decide to have a fun fist fight. Comic relief, unless it’s done really well, takes you out of the story. It has to grow more organically with the characters – you have to set it up.
Q. In closing, can you share some favorite sayings, quotes, or words of wisdom?

MarkTwain“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain

“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
– Winston Churchill

“What does it take to be a writer? – An indifference to money and a willingness to take risks.”

“Re: twisted people – it’s the cracked ones that let the light in.”

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” – Oscar Wilde

Paraphrase from the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild: If I ever get too old to drink beer and catch fish, put me in the boat and set me on fire so they can’t plug me into the wall.

 

 

 

Memorial Day Post: Author of ‘Dear Mark’ Honors Brother’s Sacrifice in Vietnam

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Today in honor of Memorial Day, The Writing Well features Susan Clotfelter Jimison, whose book, Dear Mark, has just been published in time for this holiday honoring our fallen servicemen and women.

Forty-five years ago, Susan was a 14-year-old Florida teen preparing for her sister’s wedding when she lost her only brother, a pilot in Vietnam. She has mourned him ever since, and over many years, has pieced together a beautiful tribute to his life. Susan shares her journey uncovering her brother’s final months through the men Mark served and sacrificed with four decades ago.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

I met Susan when I joined Jedwin Smith’s writers group. It’s been an honor to come along on her courageous journey — the group has shed tears along as we’ve come to know Mark and his fellow Pink Panther pilots, who risked their lives daily to save others in harm’s way.

Jedwin, who wrote Our Brother’s Keeper, about losing his own brother in Vietnam, put it best in his note on her book jacket: “Courage—that’s what it took to fly those fearsome Cobra gunships into the hellfire that was the Vietnam War, and it’s what author Susan Jimison calls upon as she opens her heart and reflects on her heroic aviator brother Mark, who died piloting his Cobra along the Laotion.”

God bless all our soldiers past and present, and God bless Susan for the gift of this story. 

__________________________________

Mark Clotfelter

Mark Clotfelter

When I began to write Dear Mark I struggled with my writing to not sound like I was trying to tell a war story—a war I was not in. It wasn’t until someone in my writing group suggested I tell my story and Mark’s in letters instead of traditional chapters that I finally began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Epistolary Style: consisting of letters

Susan reading an excerpt of Dear Mark at her May 18 book launch.

“Write him just like you did when he was in Vietnam,” and when I did, it felt natural. And I saw such progress where before I struggled with every chapter. The more progress I saw, the more inspired I became to finish my memoir.

I was able to write about the dangerous missions Mark flew in an attack helicopter, I merged the past and the present, and I “told Mark” about future plans of my next book. Sometimes the writing was tricky with past and present tenses. Occasionally, there were tears even though it’s been forty-five years.

Going forward, I feel a tremendous amount of pride to have written a book to honor my brother who was so brave, so young, and missed so much!

I’m enjoying the letters I have received from people who have read Dear Mark. But as any author will tell you, the real work begins after it’s printed. Marketing has become my full time job for Dear Mark.

Stoicism in the Face of Unspeakable Loss

In the late 60s and early 70s no one talked about the war in Vietnam. Not the neighbors, not

The Clotfelter family.

The Clotfelter family.

the schools, not even family. Almost as if we didn’t talk about it—it wasn’t happening.

In 1997 I tracked down the men who flew in Vietnam with my brother. A true band of brothers who have never forgotten the fallen or the sacrifice of the families.

During my discovery of learning about my brother as a adult and a warrior, something unexpected happened. You never know where the roads in life will take you. I met and fell in love with one of Mark’s comrades in 1999 and we were married in 2006.

In a letter to Mark:
“…So the guys know my story—which is really your story. From day one they understood. They get it. There haven’t been many places I’ve been since 1968— back when you deployed to Vietnam— that people “get it.” If the subject of Vietnam came up, and it was rare if it did, people didn’t really understand it.

These guys do. They understand your courage. They understand your missions. They understand your sacrifice—and they understand mine. Their understanding is like no other.
It isn’t just that these guys all get it. I get it too. I know they look at me and know how different it could have been. I could be their little sister.”

About the Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASusan Clotfelter Jimison resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Mike and the best dog in the world, Dude.  Her book debut entitled Dear Mark, is the culmination of a ten-year project to piece together her brother’s final days during the Vietnam War. Jimison is currently working on her second book Letters from John (projected completion date: April 2015) Historical letters and pictures from her cousin, John Donovan, provide a personal lens to glimpse the final days of the officer-turned mercenary life of the world-renowned Flying Tigers. Jimison’s work aims to shed light on the far-reaching effects of the loss of family members in war and the profound insight John had of the present and the future he was shorted.

Visit Susan’s author page to purchase her book and learn more about her book research and work with Vietnam Veterans groups.


Spring Mini-Blog Tour: Four Writing Qs Answered

Today on The Writing Well, I’m taking part in a mini-blog tour! It’s fun to share a little bit about my writing process and to recognize three other writers.

Thanks to Dr. Carol Cooper, a talented London “chick-lit” writer and The Sun’s newspaper doctor, for inviting me to be on her blog, , last Monday. Her blog is filled with wonderful tidbits about parenting, health and her journey writing romantic women’s fiction.

The tour involves each of us answering four questions about writing. The same questions are then passed on to three new writer-bloggers. Be sure to check out the blogs for Sharon, Megan and Shane, who I introduce below, and who will carry the blog torch forward next Monday. Now, it’s my turn!

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Q. What am I currently working on?

I’m in the editing phase of my debut historical fiction novel, Torrential. Set in Dayton, Ohio, in 1912, Torrential follows Irishman Kieran Gregor who survives the Titanic’s sinking paralyzed by guilt. He begins a new life in Dayton, taking a job with his uncle and letting a room in a downtown boardinghouse. There, he meets Hannah, the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of the house’s proprietors. He denies his growing attraction for Hannah, who is expected to marry Dayton’s youngest city engineer. Soon, Kieran must confront his past and his feelings for Hannah when a horrific flood hits Dayton and puts the boardinghouse’s inhabitants in peril.

My book is now with a professional editor, who will help me refine my manuscript in preparation for pitching it to agents and publishers this summer.

Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Two things come to mind – first, the story line. I believe I’m the only author to bookend a novel around two disasters that struck within a year of each other – the RMS Titanic’s sinking and the 1913 Great Dayton Flood.

Second is the degree to which I intermingled my fictional characters with historical figures in Dayton. These men, including John H. Patterson, the controversial yet brilliant founder of N.C.R., played heroic roles in the disaster and the city’s remarkable recovery.  I was able to draw upon a rich reservoir of historical research to recreate Dayton in the early 20th century, as well as the flood and its aftermath.

Beyond just the usual newspaper archive material, I interviewed a journalist who has covered the flood for 30 years, two family members of Arthur Morgan, the engineer who designed Dayton’s permanent flood control system, a national weather historian and Dayton’s chief water conservancy engineer. I believe all this research lends a level of detail and authenticity to my novel.

Q. Why do I write what I do?

I love history, I love place and I love stories of heroes who overcome adversity and triumph.  If I can bring all these elements together, then it’s a win-win for me and my readers.

Q. How does my writing process work?

I begin with an idea or a spark that gets my creative juices going. For Torrential, it was my

My grandmother and great-parents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

My grandmother and great-grandparents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

grandmother’s stories of her family surviving the flood when she was a small child. They lived in and operated a boardinghouse in downtown Dayton. Her recollections included the heroic role of the carpenters at the nearby National Cash Register Company, who built boats that saved trapped residents. She witnessed one of these boat rescues of an elderly neighbor from an upstairs window.

From there, I sketch out my main characters and the supporting figures who will move the story along, and the key plot line. Then I just pour the story onto paper. After a while, my characters become real and they speak to me. Two years into this, they sound like part of the family. The editing phase of my writing is the hardest. It’s difficult to cut, and that’s where a good editor and advance readers come in.

* * * * * *
Introducing Three Dynamic Writers

Now, here are three fellow authors, who will showcase their writing process next Monday.
Megan HeadshotMegan Cutter is a professional writer, editor, and social media strategist with over 18 years of experience in the field. Her expertise includes manuscript and article editing, as well as copy writing for websites, newsletters, magazines, and social media campaigns.  Together, Megan and her husband Barton, published their first memoir, Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll, highlighting their relationship as an inter-ability couple.

Her newest memoir, Leaving Traces: Diving from the Nest, will be published in 2015.

A. Shane Etter, a supernatural thriller writer, has penned two novels, Bottom Dwellers and Mind ShaneEtterDwellers. Both books follow a team of talented individuals as they battle a global community of powerful mutants who can read their minds and communicate telepathically.
Shane is a native son of Mississippi. He is proud of the great literary heritage of his home state and that some of the finest 20th Century authors, like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham and others have called it home. Shane has taken a number of writing workshops and classes by such noted authors as his mentor and two-time Pulitzer nominee Jedwin Smith, author/literary agent Nancy Knight, Mary Helen Stefaniak and Kaylie Jones, daughter of the great James Jones (From Here to Eternity),

Shane is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and he makes his home in Warner Robins, Georgia.

KD HoskinsSharon KD Hoskins has been a communication specialist for more than 20 years. Her first novel, To Handcuff Lightning, was a 2010 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. She is currently working on her third book, Polishing Up Heaven. All her stories are told with humor, candor, and the expectation that love will eventually show up.

She is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and enjoys reading literary and historical fiction, contemporary humor, and mysteries solved by a cat. Read her blog here.

 

Publishing Success: Debut Author Susan Crawford Shares Her Story

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford

In February, Atlanta writer Susan Crawford got the news new authors dream about: a two-book deal with a major publisher after a seven round-seven-bidder auction for the work.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Carrie Feron at William Morrow took North American rights, for publishers-weeklymid–six figures, to Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife. Agent Jenny Bent described the novel as a “stylish thriller in the tradition of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind.”

In the novel, Crawford follows a woman, Dana Catrell, whose neighbor is violently murdered. The last person to see the victim, Catrell is experiencing mania brought on by bipolar disorder; unable to remember the fateful day, Catrell must race to clear her name, and stay sane, as she becomes the chief suspect. Crawford teaches creative writing in Atlanta and has won, four times, the Atlanta Writers Club Award.

Here, Susan shares with The Writing Well her journey to this exciting moment in her literary career.

Q. What kind of a storyteller are you? What types of stories that you are drawn to?

SusanCrawfordTo pull readers in to the characters and their surroundings and thoughts as well as the plot, I like to reveal information a bit at a time. I’m drawn to the types of stories I aspire to write – books that absorb me and make me forget I have water boiling on the stove or papers to be graded or my husband waiting for me to call him back.

Q. How long did it take for you to finish your novel? What inspired the story line?
I initially wrote The Pocket Wife in about six months. I did a lot of rewriting, though, so it ended up taking about a year and a half. The story line was inspired by a few things – critique group members suggesting I rev up action in my submissions, my interest in mental health, and by my desire to try writing suspense.

Q. You’ve successfully navigated the terrain of securing first an agent, Jenny Bent, who then helped you secure a two-book deal! What advice can you offer other writers looking to find the right agent for them? How did you know you had a good fit with the Bent Agency?

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

I met Jenny at an Atlanta Writers Club conference, so I am somewhat biased in favor of meeting agents face to face. That said, there is an incredible amount of agent information online. Look for those who want the first chapters or pages included with the query; that way they see your book-writing style initially, which might be different from your knack (or lack of knack) for writing query letters. I liked what Jenny had to say when she spoke on the Agents’ Panel at the conference. I also liked her enthusiasm for my book, even though she had me do a lot of rewriting before she took me on as a client. The changes she wanted me to make in my manuscript were changes that greatly improved the book; she was thorough, communicative, and really good at what she does. We clicked.
Q. What was the most surprising about the process of getting a book contract? What do you wish you had known before that you know now that would make that process easier?

I think what most surprised me was how quickly things happened once the book was sent out. Jenny and I were flying through the last-minute edits and within days after she submitted it to editors there was an offer. As for what would have been helpful to know before, there are a few things: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something different; have fun with what you’re writing. If you really like a particular agent, do what you can to become a client. If she says, “This doesn’t really work for me the way it is now,” ask what you can do to make it work. Also, knowing the outcome, of course; that would have made the process much easier!

Q. Where are you in terms of the launch date of your novel? What steps are you taking now in the months leading to the launch?

I think Harper Collins is aiming for a launch early next year, 2015. Right now I’m beginning to work on my edits, setting up a web page, and talking up the book to anyone who will listen – friends in book clubs, friends who have other friends in book clubs, librarians, people in line at T.J. Maxx.

Q. How valuable has the Atlanta Writers Club been to your success to date as an author?
The Atlanta Writers Club has been invaluable to me. Before Ginger Collins brought me to my The-Atlanta-Writers-Clubfirst AWC meeting I had no idea how to go about being a published author. The contests, the tips, George Weinstein’s sage advice, the authors’ talks, the workshops, and especially the conferences led me to where I am now. Everyone I’ve encountered at The Atlanta Writers Club has been supportive, helpful and enthusiastic. There’s an energy at every meeting that makes me want to leap out of my seat and run home to write. It’s a fantastic group of people, and I’ve made some very good friends there!

Q. Do you also recommend critique groups?

Critique groups can be productive or not. It really depends on the group. I was lucky. I found a helpful group and then another smaller one more focused on publication. If you do join a critique group, it’s important that its members appreciate your writing, even if it isn’t the sort of story they write or prefer to read. If they find fault with the style, for example, or if you feel like going home and shredding chapters (or them) after meetings, you’re in the wrong group. A good rule of thumb is that if two or more readers think something needs changing, take another look at it.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of a follow up to Pocket Wife? Do you know what story line you’ll be tackling for your second book?

The Pocket Wife was sold as the first in a two-book deal. The second book will also be suspense; it centers on two women and a detective, all impacted by a fatal car accident in different ways. One of the women is the dead man’s widow and the other is his girlfriend. A tangled web.

 

Augusten Burroughs’ Literary Voice: ‘My Most Personal, Deepest Self’

awc100The Atlanta Writers Club recently celebrated its centennial as the Southeast’s leading club devoted to the writing craft.  More than 100 fellow members gathered to look back on the club’s history and hear from past and present presidents.   A highlight of the evening was an appearance by New York Times‘ bestselling author Augusten Burroughs, who kept everyone entertained with his own brand of humor and insights from his writing life and battle with alcoholism.

Burroughs, who was born Christopher Robison, is best known for his 2002 book, Running with RunningwithScissorsScissors, which details his bizarre childhood after his mother sent him to live with her unstable and unorthodox psychiatrist.

In 2006, the book was adapted into a film starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. The accuracy of Burroughs’ depiction of his traumatic early years has come under fire in the media and in a lawsuit that has since been settled out of court. To the assembled Atlanta writers, he was steadfast in the truth of his memoir, sharing that he kept detailed journals.

No one can doubt Burroughs’ talent for putting readers into his frame of mind, or his ability to move people emotionally. Consider these excerpts of his writing;

“Suddenly, this word fills me with a sense of sadness I haven’t felt since childhood. The kind of sadness you feel at the end of summer. When the fireflies are gone, the ponds are all dried up and the plants are wilted. It’s no longer really summer but the air is still too warm and heavy to be fall. It’s the season between seasons. It’s the feeling of something dying.” ― Dry

• “I came to think that maybe God was what you believed in because you needed to feel you weren’t alone. Maybe God was simply that part of yourself that was always there and always strong, even when you were not.”―A Wolf at the Table

• “My mother began to go crazy. Not in a ‘Let’s paint the kitchen red!’ sort of way. But crazy in a ‘gas oven, toothpaste sandwhich, I am God’ sort of way.” ― Running with Scissors: A Memoir

The low-key yet charismatic author also was generous with his time, opening up his one-hour talk to questions from attendees.

“For an author and speaker famed for his humor and offhand glibness, Mr. Burroughs planned his talk to the Atlanta Writers Club (AWC) quite seriously,” observed George Weinstein, AWC Officer Emeritus and author. “He understood his audience and addressed us as literary colleagues. I was impressed by the amount of time he spent answering questions. While he did keep the mood light, he also provided thoughtful responses that revealed insights into the craft and business of writing, which is what the AWC is all about.”

Augusten

I enjoyed getting acquainted with Mr. Burroughs after his talk.

Burroughs urged all of us to “let the words flow” – and to not let self-doubt, self-criticism, or other distractions keep us from the work of writing.  After his appearance, I asked over email how he gets himself back on track during times when there is no writing inspiration to be had — something with which every writer struggles.

“When my writing isn’t going well, I try to understand why. Am I trying to write something that doesn’t belong? Am I approaching the material from the wrong perspective? And sometimes what i do is just continue to write anyway, knowing that I’m having an off-day and hoping that it turns into an ‘on day somewhere along the way,” he says.

When asked what has been the most rewarding part of his journey as a memoir writer, Burroughs said, “Meeting my readers, both here in the states and all over the world. That’s been a wonderful, amazing and humbling experience. It’s also made me more human.”

What should a writer wishing to succeed as a memoirist never forget?

“The truth. A memoirist must never lie to themselves,” Burroughs says. “How much they divulge is another matter. The process of discovering the truth is fascinating and best explored on the page, as opposed to arriving at the keyboard with what believes to be the truth preinstalled in the mind. Often, the truth of ones circumstances resides just behind what one believes our assumes or has been told is true. The memoirist much reach the deeper truth; the truth behind the truth.”

While unable tShelteringSkyo single out a favorite writer or filmmaker, Burroughs did admit to being a fan of actress Debra Winger and the book, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. It’s a story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II.  Bowles examines the ways in which Americans’ incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures. In 1990, it was adapted into a film starring Winger.

“I admire the masterful use of language in the book, the way the author creates such a powerful sense of place. It’s a fever-dream of a novel and it truly transports, which I absolutely admire,” he said. “It’s important to read books that fill you with awe.”

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

As for that intangible but uniquely distinctive writing attribute known as “voice” that many elevate above even plot and character in a story, Burroughs had this to say:  “If a writer has either created or released a voice that is so compelling and unique, yes, we’re more likely to forgive or even overlook a plot. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis would be an example. There’s not much — if any — plot to this book but the main character is so horribly compelling we continue to turn the page to see what he does next.  In my own case, my literary voice is simply my most personal, deepest self. It’s the voice in my head.”

And that, I believe, is why we will continue to be captivated by Augusten Burroughs’ brand of storytelling.

Meet Jennifer McQuiston: CDC Scientist-turned NYT-Bestselling Historical Romance Author

JenniferMcQuistPhotoAtlanta has its share of talented writers, especially in the romance genre, as noted by the number of Georgia Romance Writers chapter members who have received the coveted Maggie Awards that frequently lead to successful publishing careers with major houses.

In 2011, Jennifer McQuiston earned her first Maggie in the unpublished category. Within two years, she would be a New York Times bestselling romance novelist with Avon nominated for the 2013 RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for best First Historical Romance for her novel, What Happens in Scotland

MoMM FinalI recently caught up with Jennifer at the book signing for her third novel, Moonlight on My Mind.  A mother and veterinarian by training, Jennifer has managed to balance her new literary career with motherhood and demanding work as an infectious disease scientist at CDC.  I  literally “inhaled” two of her three Victorian era novels, including her second novel, Summer is for Lovers, in a matter of a few weeks, and can’t wait for her next series.  The vitality and irreverence of her heroines are unforgettable, as are the circumstances they find themselves in.  The Writing Well is proud to showcase Jennifer and her writing journey below.

Q. How did a veterinarian and CDC scientist become a historical romance novelist? You don’t normally associate the two types of professions together.

Jennifer: When I sat down to write my first book, it evolved as sort of a “see if I can” experiment, and what emerged was a romance set in a historical setting. (It sucked, by the way. In case you were wondering.)
But the why of it is more difficult to explain. Although I had dabbled a bit in flash fiction and short stories with a contemporary feel, my first attempt to write a book was unapologetically a historical romance. Looking back, I think it is because the rhythm of it felt most natural to me. I had always loved to read historical romance, and in fact, it was the process of discovering amazing historical romance authors like Madeline Hunter that made me first want to try my hand at writing anything.
With respect to the seemingly incongruous nature of my professions, I can only point to a scientist’s great love of research as a natural fit for the research required to craft believable historical fiction. And as for the romance? I spend my days writing the most tedious scientific articles imaginable… I would even welcome the opportunity to write limericks as an escape!

There one was a highly trained vet
Who never practiced on a pet
She worked as a fed
And was very well read
Happy endings were always a sure bet.

Q. Your heroines in at least your last two books are all independent, spirited women who often are misunderstood by the society and the men that they eventually love. What do you hope readers “get” about these strong characters who defy stereotypes or limited views of what they can accomplish?

Jennifer:  So many historical romance authors take heat for writing stories with romance at its core—as though that is something incompatible with a strong, modern woman! Rubbish, I say. I am an unapologetic feminist, and have never felt that my gender was something I needed to “overcome”, either professionally or emotionally. It was refreshing to arrive in veterinary school waaaaay back in 1993 and realize that 80% of my class was female, and that all of us were going to wrestle pigs and palpate cattle. And it is refreshing now to meet fellow romance authors and realize that 90% of them are more extreme feminists than I am.
History is full of examples of women who challenged feminine stereotypes, from Joan of Arc to Florence Nightingale. While they may not be “typical” women, they were real, and by studying and sometimes emulating them, I have been able to create romance heroines that are firmly anchored in their era, but that contemporary readers of historical romance can root for.

Modern notions of feminism do create enormous conflict in the Victorian era. For example, if I make my heroine a swimmer (as I did in Summer is for Lovers), in an era where a woman could only enjoy the ocean in archaic and frankly terrifying bathing machines, I have beautiful, instant conflict for my story.

But conflict is a good thing in fiction, so it works out well for me.

Q. I’ve heard from other novelists that “voice” is often the hardest to master but is one of the most critical attributes of strong storytelling. Do you agree? How would you describe your narrative voice?

Jennifer: Voice is something that belongs uniquely to each author, and I have to say, it didn’t sync into place for me until my second attempt to write a book. (I wrote 5 before I finally got published, if you would like to count along). Workshops and conferences help you sort out form and function, and genre fiction can have certain elements that must be there that you can learn and execute as a matter of course (i.e., the requisite happy ending for Romance).
But nothing can teach an author their voice. You have to discover it, not learn it, and there is no way to do it but time, luck, and repetition.
It is funny, but I am not sure I CAN describe my narrative voice. I know I can point out specific differences from the rhythm of my writing versus other writers. I favor certain combinations of rhetorical devices, and love rich word choices (I LOVE words. Sometimes my critique partners have to call me down). I also believe my voice captures my strong sense of humor, and reviewers and readers often say my voice is witty, snarky, and irreverent at times.
It figures…my sarcasm got me into oh-so-much trouble in high school, but now it is at least earning me a bit of a paycheck.
Q. You mentioned at your book signing that your favorite novel was your first – can you explain why?

How do I explain What Happens in Scotland, and describe what it whathappensscotlandecoverhas done for me and my family?

1) It was the FIFTH book I had written, and all the other had gotten “No’s”, so I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to “do” this thing.

2) The plot for the book hit me like a thunderbolt (I was turning 40 and planning a party with close friends in Vegas). I was watching the Hangover one night and thought, “Wow. There are certain elements of this that would totally make an original and fun historical romance.” The idea was so high-concept and I was so excited to write it, it poured out of me in only 3 months (no, that isn’t normal. Who do you think I am???)

3) It immediately felt different to me. Better than anything else I had written. Editors who had roundly rejected me for past book submissions thought so too, and it sold at auction a week after going out. So in many ways, it was a total fairy tale for me. And with the advance from that sale, I was able to buy my kids a freaking pony. Enough said.

4) Even though it was a polarizing book (reviewers either loved it or hated it), it generated a lot of buzz, and I can now claim “NYT Bestseller” on my list of accomplishments.
So yeah… totally my favorite book. Later books are almost certainly better written. And I enjoy the process of plotting new books a lot. But you never forget your first love…

Q. Do you have a favorite time period and geography to place your characters? If so, what makes that period and/or place so compelling to you?

Jennifer: My preferred time period to write about (and read about) is definitely the Victorian era. I find it so much more fascinating than the narrowly viewed Regency period. From 1840-1890, the world was changing in a head-spinning way. Railways replaced coaches, new money moved in, Americans went abroad, and medicine and science were growing by leaps and bounds (spurred by discoveries like anesthesia, the mode of transmission of cholera, and eventually germ theory). So much more interesting than waltzing!
To date, my stories have been British-set, but I do like to move them around. What Happens in Scotland is based in the Scottish Highlands. Summer is for Lovers is set in the Victorian seaside resort of Brighton, and Moonlight on My Mind is based largely in the Yorkshire countryside. My new series is heading to London (see question #6 below).

I also have a simmering idea for a west-Africa set missionary story based in the mid-Victorian era, but we’ll see if I ever get to write that!

Q. How do you approach period research to ensure your characters’ world is authentic? Any research tips for other writers with a bent toward historical settings?

Jennifer: Simply because it fascinated me, I had done a good deal of reading and background research on the early Victorian era even before I tried to write my first book. Historical settings can be hard, and if you are a perfectionist, be warned: worrying TOO much about the details can sometimes derail the story. For what I write (historical romance), the developing love story needs to be the actual heart of the book. For me, the key is to go into detail about things I DO know well (chamber pots, horses, historical methods of birth control), and not dwell on things that could trip me up (such as when door knobs were officially invented…I have very differing accounts from very different sources, and have no idea which to believe!)
My biggest tip is, whenever possible, read primary sources. I have read a lot of medical texts from the 1850’s, and I also have a huge, room-sized map of London from 1851 that I use to place me in that city for my current works in progress. And given that photography was invented in the Victorian era, I LOVE looking at old photographs.

Q. Congrats on getting another three-book deal from Avon – any hints on what you have planned next in terms of story lines?

Jennifer:  Thank you so much! I am terribly fortunate to have been given these opportunities, and I am excited to write a new series, tentatively known as “The Seduction Diaries”. The series follows two sisters and a brother as they navigate London Society on their own terms.
I am nearly finished with book #1 in the series, which is called “Diary of an Accidental Wallflower”, and it has some echoes of “Mean Girls” in it. Briefly, the reigning “It” girl in London sprains her ankle on the eve of the biggest ball of the year and is relegated to the (gasp!) wallflower line, where she eventually discovers there is more to life than dancing, and more to falling in love than dukes.
Q. Who are your favorite writers? Where do you go online for writing “inspiration”?

Jennifer: There are so many amazing authors, and when I’m not actively writing, I am still a voracious reader. Historical authors on my auto-buy list include Meredith Duran, Joanna Bourne, Julia Quinn, Sarah MacLean, Julie Anne Long, Cecilia Grant, Courtney Milan (do you want me to keep going? Because I totally can…) My critique partners are also fantastic writers…shouts out to Romily Bernard, Tracy Brogan, Kimberly Kincaid, Sally Kilpatrick, and Alyssa Alexander!

For even more local-to-Atlanta inspiration, my favorite writers all gather at a Norcross hotel once a month for Georgia Romance Writers. I always leave their meetings feeling energized and ready to tackle the whole industry!

Dashing DuchessesOnline writing inspiration… I love reading Smart Bitches/Trashy Books (even if they gave What Happens in Scotland a hell of a snarky review). I blog with a group of fantastic historical authors called the Dashing Duchesses, and every one of those ladies is an inspiration. And of course, there is nothing more inspiring than connecting with readers and other authors.I love seeing folks on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jennifermcquistonauthor) and Twitter (@jenmcqwrites).

Historical Novelist Tracy Groot on Writing, the South & Andersonville Prison

groot_tracy_01Tracy Groot, a Michigan native, found out early she loved to write.  But it’s the topics she’s tackled that make her so intriguing:  faith and finding your moral center against the backdrop of history.

“I am drawn to stories with a lot of darkness in them, because I want to find out where the light shows up,” says Tracy.

Her debut novel, The Brother’s Keeper, based on a play she penned, explores the story of James, brother of Jesus.  Later, she tackled another Biblical story in Madman, a story about the Gerasene demoniac.  After signing with Tyndale Publishers, she found her niche: writing stories set against historical events—“the small hinges, Winston Churchill once said, upon which history turns,” as she describes it in her author bio. In Flame of Resistance, she weaves the Biblical story of the prostitute Rahab into a tale of a young French woman who survives the Nazi occupation of France.

Sentinels-of-AndersonvilleIn her latest book, The Sentinels of Andersonville, to be released Feb. 1st, Tracy delves into the infamous Confederate prison where 13,000 Union soldiers perished in only fourteen months. In this riveting retelling of a tragic chapter in the Civil War, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given.  The book has already earned high praise from the likes of James M. McPherson, who calls it “a poignant, heartwarming story of how human kindness and the willingness to take risks can make a difference.”

Below, she talks about her journey to Andersonville and her own discovery of what it meant to be a southerner at that time. Tracy also offers her own view of the state of publishing and being a writer today. Reach Tracy on her website or connect with her on Facebook.

Q. What inspired you to write The Sentinels of Andersonville?

I saw a movie when I was a kid called The Andersonville Trial, directed by George C Scott. I was horrified to learn that donated food had been turned away and I wanted to find out why.

Q. Do you have an interesting Civil War family history?

No, but my husband does. Jack’s cousin, Jim, has a grandfather who, believe it or not, fought in the Civil War. Jim is around 60 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old. So, if you add it up, Jim was born around 1950, his father was born around 1880 and his grandfather was born around 1795. So, his three generations actually span four centuries!

Tracy Root on a research trip to the site of  Andersonville Prison in summer 2012.

Tracy Groot at the site of Andersonville Prison, 2012.

Q. What did you find most challenging about this story compared with your earlier books?

To write accurately from a southern point of view, I needed to understand what independence meant to a southerner. Searching to understand that was critical to the story. I was also challenged to get the details right for Andersonville prison, because this is a piece of our American history.

Q. Which character do you most identify with? Why?

I identified with so many, but in my heart I’d have to say Dance. Why? Because he was judging others for what they were not doing and I sometimes do the same.

Q. I know research was an important component to making this story authentic and for my part, I found your recreation of the horror inside this overcrowded and disease-ridden place raw and haunting. What was most helpful to you in the research phase? Anything surprising or unexpected emerge?

The most helpful were the original accounts of the prisoners through diaries, letters and writings

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

featured in various historical documents. I wanted to go directly to the sources. I read through over 100 of these sources and the amazing thing is that these and many more are still out there. Several history books about Andersonville were also very informative, as were documentaries and film. A few unexpected things emerged.

  • First, I wanted to hang Captain Wirz all over again when I initially embarked on my Andersonville research; when I finished my research I was surprised that he was no longer my target. I came into the project with ideas that changed as the research progressed. The culpability for Andersonville could not possibly fall on one man, although in my opinion General Winder should have faced the scaffold sooner than Wirz.
  • Second, I began to understand and appreciate what independence meant at that time to a southerner.
  • Third, I was amazed to discover that a neighbor of mine’s great-great-great grandfather had been a prisoner at Andersonville. We were on the subject of research for the book and when I told him what it was about, he told me about his grandfather. Later he came over with a transcript that had been published in an Indiana newspaper with his grandfather’s account.

Q. A major theme of your story is the role of individual action – doing something, no matter how small, to help those in need can make a difference. Do you think that is a message that has relevance today?

With all my heart. We have a shopping cart in our foyer at church where folks can put something in to help the needy through the Food Pantry. Every week I have an opportunity to put something in that cart to help someone out. Since writing Sentinels, I don’t miss that opportunity—and I no longer get annoyed if I think others are not giving or don’t care; I make sure that I am.

Q. Any advice to aspiring historical novelists given all the changes in the publishing industry?

Here’s what hasn’t changed: calling, purpose, and desire. 

Q. What is your view of traditional versus self-publishing, the role of agents, the importance of social media, etc. What should writers do to find an audience for their work?

Everyone’s publishing story is going to be different. For some, traditional works, for others, self-publishing is the route to go.  Same deal with agents. Given the state of the publishing industry today, I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way to do things. You have to feel your way, find your way. The number one thing a novelist must do, the new non-negotiable, is to stay connected with social media. These days, an author is both novelist and bookstore and there’s no getting around it. For myself, I give a certain amount of time to investing in social media daily, and call it good. People need to know your book is out there. Goodreads and other book sites do that. Of course, the most important thing to do is make sure you have something to market; write a good book. All starts there.

The Intersection of Slavery & Freedom: One Man’s Journey Finding his Family Story

Got Proof Book Cover 5-1-13Today, Michael N. Henderson has reason to celebrate. On this day 234 years ago, his fourth-generation great-grandmother gained her freedom.

Below is a fascinating story of Michael’s 30-year journey uncovering his French and Creole family roots that played out during the American Revolution. The creative culmination of his work is Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, released in May 2013.

Michael’s research into his own ancestors, as well as other people of color in Louisiana, has gained national attention. In 2010, he was featured in a segment of the nationally televised program “History Detectives” titled “The Galvez Papers,” and in that same year made history as the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

GotProof_authorThis past October, Michael’s book earned the coveted James Dent Walker Award by the Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS). The Society bestows its highest honor on someone who has exhibited “distinguished accomplishments through a significant and measurable contribution to the research, documentation, and/or preservation of African American history.”

My colleague and friend Anita Paul, known as “The Author’s Midwife,” assisted Michael in getting his book published and promoted. She tells me, “A big part of what has helped make Michael’s storytelling journey successful is his willingness to share what he knows. He is an example and an inspiration to other genealogists who desire to become the scribe and the storyteller of their own research journey. He demonstrates that you have to have a healthy dose of confidence in yourself, assurance in your research methods, and connection to your ancestral story. After all, who better to tell the stories of ancestors than their descendants?”

The Writing Well is honored to share Michael’s insights below.

Q. There is a huge interest in people discovering their genealogical roots. What was unique about your journey?
Michael:  My genealogical journey was unique in that I found the intersection of slavery and GotProof_Nellie2freedom in the lives my ancestors in Louisiana during the American Revolution. My 4th generation great-grandmother, an enslaved woman named Agnes, gained her freedom on December 16, 1779. Her French consort, Mathieu Devaux dit (alias) Platilla, served in the Louisiana militia during the Revolutionary War. So, while Agnes was fighting for freedom from slavery, Mathieu was helping the American colonists fight for freedom from Great Britain. Agnes and Mathieu had a 31-year relationship and produced seven children, all of whom were born free prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
In my book, Got Proof: My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, I explore Louisiana’s participation in the American Revolution, something I’ve found many people are not aware of, particularly because Louisiana was not one of the 13 colonies. The book takes readers along my journey of uncovering the relationship between Agnes and Mathieu, and how the family they created became the roots of my Louisiana Creole ancestry.
Having located evidence of Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla’s participation in the American Revolution, I later joined and became the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
Q. What do you hope people glean from your book, Got Proof!?
Michael: I hope that readers are inspired to accomplish the same or similar achievements as I have. I believe every genealogist goes through three phases when researching their family history. The first phase is becoming curious about your family and its connection to the past. The second phase is becoming the historian; learning about the people, places, and events that helped shape the lives of your ancestors. The third phase is becoming the storyteller; sharing your discoveries so others can appreciate them.
In Got Proof, I share how I evolved as a genealogist through each of these phases in discovering my ancestry in colonial Louisiana. If readers glean just a smidgen of how I, as a genealogist, journeyed through history using documents, then turned those facts into a story, the book will have accomplished what I intended.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Michael:  Narrowing down nearly 30 years of genealogy research was, by far, the most challenging aspect of writing Got Proof. I wanted to be careful not to overload the reader by regurgitating facts found in documents, but rather to tell the story of my journey and discovery of Agnes and Mathieu. Once I decided on the theme, I developed an outline, and the story unfolded from there.
Q. Can you share 3-4 best practices around research into genealogy that other family biographers could learn from?
Michael:  Anyone interested in researching their genealogy should first start with themselves and work backwards in time. Gather documents that paint a picture of your life: birth certificate, school records, marriage certificate, employment and military records, etc. Then, develop a pedigree chart showing your direct descent from ancestors. Also, create a family group sheet showing the relationships between generations (parents, grandparents, children). As you research, determine 1) what you know; and 2) what you want to discover.
Remember that genealogy research takes time, patience, and diligence.

The pleasure for me is in the hunt for information. I love solving mysteries and finding documents to support theories. Finally, writing the story based on documented evidence will help you craft the narrative of your family for future generations to appreciate.

 Q. A big part of writing books is marketing them, which you’ve done very well with your writing partner Anita Paul. Any advice on how to get the most out of your outreach if you are writing about genealogy?

Michael:  Anita is an amazing author’s coach. One of the primary things she instilled in me very

Anita Paul

Anita Paul

early was to develop a clear platform that could expand into a brand for myself.

I realize that success for me is bigger than the book. My platform is based on the foundation of my genealogy research and my being the first African American in Georgia inducted into the SAR. In addition, I was featured in a segment of the PBS program “History Detectives” called “The Galvez Papers,” which tells the story of Agnes and Mathieu. These events happened before the book was produced, and added significantly to the visibility of my story once the book was released in May 2013.

Another critical element in marketing Got Proof was my early development of an online presence. Through my blog and Facebook page, I have shared many of my genealogy discoveries and successes, and have grown quite a loyal following.

Finally, being visible to my target market is critical for me. I speak to historical, genealogical, and lineage/heritage societies nationwide. Giving presentations about my research success further inspires audiences, allows them to connect with me, and encourages them to purchase Got Proof.